More clueless media (UPI) columns

This came over the wire this morning. Perhaps journalists should bring in fact-checkers that do their jobs before printing such garbage. Read on...

Assignment America: Mothball the Airlines
By John Bloom
UPI Reporter-at-Large
From the Life & Mind Desk
Published 4/16/2003 7:00 AM
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NEW YORK, April 16 (UPI) -- Did Sept. 11 really nuke all the airlines?

I don''t think so. Every time an airline executive blames all his troubles on Osama bin Laden, I think about Southwest, and JetBlue, and Air Trans -- tight, lean, mean, competitive air carriers that won''t ever be caught whining -- and I wonder what planet these guys are living on.

There''s a simple answer to an event like Sept. 11: Stop flying overseas! Shut down the office in Cairo. Sell the plane. Lay off three or four European ad agencies. Is there some rule that says United, American and Delta are REQUIRED to fly to Moscow and Hong Kong and Sydney? I don''t think so. If we need to go there, we''ll fly Aeroflot and Royal Jordanian and Qantas, and that will be JUST FINE.

And now American Airlines is about to join the bread line in front of bankruptcy court. It''s no secret that for the last couple of weeks American has been sniffing around town trying to line up a couple billion in loans.

Here''s a sign of the times, though: nobody would consider that kind of money unless the company goes into bankruptcy protection first. Most likely lender: Citigroup. Remember the guys who loaned billions to Latin American countries in the eighties because they thought THAT was a good investment? Well, a full 3 percent of their annual earnings per share comes from the American Airlines

Frequent Flyer credit card. (Yes, that''s what I said.)

Chapter 11, the airline''s best friend, finally looms before the airline that was once considered the strongest and most solvent in the world. In case you''re keeping track, American follows United (December), US Airways (last summer), and, going back in time, Continental, Northwest, TWA, Eastern, Pan American and Braniff.

Does anyone even remember Braniff? Braniff practically invented the modern era of airline bankruptcy. A solid national airline, known for its fanciful Alexander Calder fuselages and Pucci-garbed flight attendants, Braniff was the first to fly non-stop daily between Dallas and Bangkok. I think you get the idea.

The best medicine for reforming the airlines is Chapter 7, not Chapter 11. Auction off the planes and close up shop. These are huge inefficient companies burdened with too many planes, too many employees, and too many routes. But whenever an airline gets in trouble, all those free-market capitalists in Congress suddenly become Swedish-style socialists.

United Airlines is still steamed that the Bush administration refused to fork over $1.8 billion in Sept. 11 money last December, triggering the Chapter 11 action. But why should the government care which airline flies out of Chicago, or Dallas, or New York, or anywhere else for that matter? If an airline collapses, SOMEBODY will fly the routes.

Of course, prices might go up. GOOD. One reason the airlines are insolvent is that the prices are ridiculously low, not to mention burdened by bloated frequent-flyer giveaways that result in all the major companies being responsible for billions of dollars in free flights stretching into the distant future. One immediate advantage of Chapter 7 is that all the frequent flyer miles disappear.

American Airlines lost $3.5 billion in 2002. They''re still hemorrhaging $5 million a day. Of the $4 billion they need to trim to stay afloat, they say they can find two of it through cutbacks. The other half would need to come from three big unions -- the pilots, the mechanics and the flight attendants. Early returns indicate that the pilots and mechanics are willing to bite the bullet, but the flight attendants -- already battered by various efficiency moves over the past 15 years -- are not likely to vote for any more layoffs and pay cuts.

If they hold to that position, then it''s on to the courthouse, where American is likely to be faced with some of the same tough-love meetings now being endured by United.

Just one example: the man who runs United now, in everything but name, is David G. Bronner, chief executive of the Retirement System of Alabama. He''s United''s number one creditor, and he''s used that leverage to control seven of 13 seats on the board of directors. Some people, like Jeff Zach, head of the Association of Flight Attendants, say he''s meddling. But there''s a certain clear-eyed realism that comes into play when you''re the spokesman for widows and orphans. So Bronner''s position is simple: either United cuts costs immediately, or he''ll put the company in Chapter 7 and sell everything from airplanes to file cabinets.

To which I say: at last a businessman in charge.

On the day that United stops flying, if that day comes, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. But the planes will be parked on a tarmac in Tucson or wherever you put surplus planes, and one by one they''ll be leased, bought and retrofitted by someone starting with a clean slate. That''s how it''s supposed to work.

And they won''t be flying to Geneva anymore. What we''ll probably end up with is more flights to Vegas, where the gambling is more disciplined.

(Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at [email protected] or through his Web site at Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)

Copyright © 2001-2003 United Press International
Since when did Braniff start flying DFW-BGK?Once again good research.
On 4/16/2003 8:01:32 AM CLTBWIDAYSYR wrote:

This came over the wire this morning. Perhaps "journalists" should bring in fact-checkers that do their jobs before printing such garbage. Read on...

Assignment America: Mothball the Airlines
By John Bloom
UPI Reporter-at-Large
From the Life & Mind Desk
Published 4/16/2003 7:00 AM
View printer-friendly version

Maybe you don''t know it, but this guy is a HUMORIST, not a journalist. He goes under the pen name "Joe Bob Briggs" (as it states in the article). He is purely a humor guy, I wouldn''t take a word of what he says seriously.
Is he confusing UA with US or is Bronner involved over there as well?

What an uninformed article. Full of generalizations and mistakes. One of those people who knows everything about an industry he has no involvement with- it reminds me of one guy I met who complained about his rotten flight on USAir from Boston to Honolulu.
One thing is true in his do''nt hear Southwest, Jet Blue, or Value jet "Crying", because they are well run operations, and they have the proper attitudes, ie: not trying to screw your employees every day, it shows, be nice to work for a "Winning Team" instead of a bunch of losers.
I emailed him([email protected]):

I realize you''re a humorist in nature, so your column "Mothball the airlines" would have been funnier if your facts were correct. Do you check these things before you write?

The column had inaccuracies. Even in a humor column, your facts should be correct. But, in this age of getting the story out before getting it straight, nothing surprises the public anymore. You''ve just perpetuated that attitude, and your whole organization loses credibility.

Two snippets that were glaringly wrong:
1.) Braniff never flew to Bangkok.
2.) David Bronner is not a majority owner of United. It''s USAirways. It was his investment that helped get USAirways out of Chapter 11 on 3/31/03.

The problem isn''t necessarily where the airlines fly. Hence, the solution is not that they have too many big planes and far reaching routes. By that rationale, you might surmise that the counterparts in other countries (i.e. Qantas, Lufthansa, Aeroflot) should also not fly long routes because they, too, are facing serious cash problems. No, instead you might have approached it from the standpoint that there are too many airlines in our country with too much capacity. If that requires a few more airlines falling by the wayside, then Darwin''s theory of evolution will prevail.
IIRC, UPI still employs Helen Thomas as their White House reporter. Regardless of what Tim Robbins said in front of the National Press Club the other day, she still sits in the front row at White House briefings. Her questions are so stupid, she is called on often just to provide a good laugh to everyone I think.